I was going through the shed in the back yard of my new house and I found that the previous owner had left behind several large boxes of books. This was not unlike stumbling upon some forgotten treasure, and although many of the books held little to no interest for me, I thrilled in the experience of simply sifting through this graveyard of forgotten words.
As I was looking through those boxes a tiny book happened to catch my eye. This book was called, The Old Man and the Sea. I had heard of the book before, but I had never read it.
Seeing an opportunity to catch up on my reading schedule with an unbelievably short book, I brought it in with me and that night before I went to bed I curled up and read through the first third or so.
I am hesitant to say this, but I think I am not exaggerating when I say that it was unlike anything I have ever read before in my life.
The story is simple, almost childishly so:
Man goes fishing.
Man hooks fish.
Fish pulls man out to sea.
Man catches fish.
Sharks eat fish.
Man goes home.
That’s all. And yet, this story is a revelation, akin to what one imagines Moses must have felt like as he stood before the burning bush with his bare feet tasting the grit of the sand as he stood on holy ground. Hemingway has digested the Elements of Style’s suggestion to “omit needless words” and has made it his gospel, the single simple truth that defines him.
In the past I have heard Hemingway spoken, of as being almost comically austere in his style, but when I read this work, I found myself marveling at the perfect simplicity of it all. Hemingway does not make his sentences too short; he makes them exactly short enough, with no frills or flourishes to distract the mind from the simple power of the story being told.
Of course I loved the story for itself and its simple beauty, but I also found encouragement in his words. Many times as I have read the work of other authors I have though “I wish I could write like that.” But as I was reading Hemingway I thought, “I can write like that.” I don’t mean to seem proud. I am not trying to compare myself with Hemingway’s genius. What I am trying to say is that even the worst writer can look to his example and learn from the simple power of simplicity.
If you haven’t read the book yet, I can’t possible recommend it highly enough. I believe that if you go to it willingly with an open mind and an open heart it cannot fail to change your life.
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